David Ray may only be in his mid-30s but his canal pedigree is longer than many, and his knowledge of the canals and historic boats is second to none and he continues to manage a busy boatyard.
He was introduced to the waterways by his parents who had a pleasure boat based on the River Stort and says: “By the age of five I was standing on a stall in the door ‘oles steering on my own".
“During this early period in my life I was captivated by the infrastructure and heritage of the canal network including the boats. By the time I was 15, I was actively involved in canal carrying in between my academic studies. The majority of this time was predominantly spent boating with the late David Blagrove (author, songwriter, boatmen and school teacher) from his Wharf at Stoke Bruerne, with Clover and Fazeley (both built for Fellows, Morton and Clayton). This gave me the opportunity to meet many ex-boat people who have become very good friends and have enabled me to delve further into canal life and the working practices used. We regularly did trial runs for companies such as Shanks and McEwan and Marks and Spencers. One trip involved loading waste cardboard in London and transporting it to a waste recycling point in Birmingham. These non urgent cargoes can be carried a lot more efficiently and cost effective by boat than lorry. I wanted to carry this on further after leaving further education, but my parents (although supportive) were concerned and urged me to gain a “proper job” to pay for my hobby.”
Working for a building society didn’t satisfy, although getting a transfer to Stony Stratford enabled him to buy the boat his parent’s had built and he began living on the cut and still actively carrying domestic bagged coal in the Northamptonshire area.
In 2005 he handed in his notice and helped set up an expanding canal carrying company before an opportunity arose for him to join the newly formed Norbury Wharf Limited.
That year David bought Hyperion (built by Harland and Wolff for the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company in 1935) in a near derelict state and over the next two years restored her to full working trim (1935 condition) with help from friends and family.
He said: “Although I loved Hyperion she wasn’t used to her full potential. I managed to load her on a regular basis with domestic fuel for our local canal-side customers and road stone to repair our moorings but I didn’t get to do very much boating with her."
She was home until March 2010, when he purchased Ant (another ex-carrying boat built by EC Jones, Brentford for British Waterways in 1960). He says "Ant offers a lot more living space and is much more comfortable".
In April 2015 David and his partner Sarah, were pleased to announce the arrival of their first daughter; Elizabeth Flora Ray, who can occasionally been seen playing with the toys in the gift shop.
David became a Director of Norbury Wharf Limited in 2015.
In 2020 the opportunity arose for David to purchase the business and in December 2020 he became the Managing Director.